Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

66

on a subject which he has taken the utmost care to explain, in the very commencement of his work :

Respecting man whatever wrong we call,
May, must be right—as relative to all.,
In human works, tho' labour'd on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
In God's, one single can its end produce,
Yet serves to second too some other use.
So man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;
'Tis but a part we see, and not the whole.

Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 51. From which it clearly appears, that in the apprehension of the poet all would not be right, if this world had not a relation to another state of being, and that all is right, only when considered as relative to all.

The foregoing observations may, perhaps, receive further illustration from an account of the different doctrines of Pope and Bolingbroke, as given by Ruffhead, in his life of Pope; but which bears too evident marks of the acuteness and style of Warburton, to allow us to attribute it to any other writer :

“ Mr. Pope's Essay on Man is a real vindication of Providence against libertines and atheists; who quarrel with the present constitution of things, and deny a future state. To these he answers, that whatever is, is right; and he assigns this reason, that we see only a part of the moral system, and not the whole. Therefore these irregularities, serving to great purposes, such as the fuller manifestation of God's goodness and justice, they are right.

“ On the other hand Lord Bolingbroke's Essays are a pretended vindication of Providence against an imaginary confederacy between divines and atheists ; who use a common principle, namely, the irregularities of God's moral government here; the one, to establish a future state; the other, to discredit the being of a God.

“His Lordship, who opposes their different conclusions, endeavours to overthrow their common principle by his friend's maxim, that whatever is, is right; not because the present state of our moral world (which is part only of a general system,) is ne-.

a

cessary for the greater perfection of the whole, but because our moral world is an entire system of itself.

“ His Lordship applies the maxim no better (as might be expected) than he understands it. Mr. Pope, as has been observed, urges it against atheists and libertines, who say that the constitution of things is faulty; so that the reply, whatever is, is right, is pertinent in him. His Lordship on the other hand directs it against divines, who say, indeed, that this constitution is imper, fect, if considered separately, because it is a part only of a whole, but are as far as his Lordship from calling it fuulty: therefore the reply, that whatever is, is right, is, in him, impertinent.

“ In a word, the poet directs it against atheists and libertines, in support of religion, properly so called; the philosopher against divines, in support of religion, improperly so called, namely, naTURALISM ; and the success is answerable. Mr. Pope's argument is manly, systematical, and convincing; Lord Bolingbroke's confused, prevaricating, and inconsistent.”

With respect to the passage cited by Dr. Warton from the younger Richardson, in which it is said that Pope “never dreamt of the scheme he afterwards adopted,” but “ that he had taken terror about the Clergy and Warburton himself, at the general alarm of its fatalism and deistical tendency;" whence it is inferred, that considerable alterations were made in the purport and tendency of the

may with safety be asserted that this inference cannot be true. The Essay on Man, as it now appears, could at no time have existed in

any
form
very

different with respect to its doctrinal tenets from what it is at present; so that any passages tending to the inculcation of in del principles, or to discredit Christianity, would not only have been inconsistent with the general purpose of it, but totally contradictory to the conclusion, which points to the Christian revelation as the completion of the system. To

suppose that Pope had written a poem in order to promote the cause of infidelity, but which he afterwards altered in such a manner as entirely to change its object and tendency, is absurd, as in such case he must have altered the texture and construction of his whole work. The younger Richardson appears to have been an honest, but a weak man, who, although he was employed by Pope to collate his works with the printed editions, was unequal to judge of the operations of a mind like that of Pope. If, as he states, there existed so entire a discrepancy between

poem ; it

the Essay on Man as published, and the original manuscripts, all of which, “ from the first scratches of the four books to the several finished copies,” Richardson had in his possession, how happens it that he did not gratify the curiosity of the public with some instances of those important alterations, which we are told Pope was induced to make, even against his own judgment, in order to prevent those consequences which it seems had excited so much alarm in his mind ?

Yet more extraordinary is the testimony brought forwards by Dr. Warton himself; who informs us, that Lord Lyttelton assured him, that he had frequently talked with Pope, whose opinions were at that time conformable to his own, which he candidly confessed were too much inclined to deism, although he had fortunately become a most serious and earnest believer of Christianity. Whence Dr. Warton infers, that it was probable “Pope also changed his opinion, though at the time of writing the Essay on Man he was tinctured with principles of another kind; and that he was equally in earnest when he was a disciple of Bolingbroke as he afterwards was when he became a disciple of Warburton." That Pope ever changed his religious opinions, and particularly on so important a point, is a supposition entirely contrary to the whole tenor of his writings. What a person may be supposed to have said, or to have assented to in conversation, may have been misunderstood, and consequently may be unintentionally misrepresented; but what he has written is open to the examination and decision of the world at large, who will found their judgment upon it, and not upon hearsay evidence and vague reports, which are in direct opposition to the avowed sentiments of the author.

Were we to inquire into the motives which have given rise to the imputations thrown out against the author of the Essay on Man, as having advanced doctrines unfavourable to revelation, we shall find that they arise chiefly from his not having rendered his work subservient to certain opinions, which those who have censured him have thought proper to espouse, as exclusively the test of Christianity. In this spirit is the remark of Dr. Warton on the lines,

“ Then say not man's imperfect, heaven's in fault;
Say rather, man's as perfect as he ought.”

Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 69.

“ Consequently," says Warton, “man is not in a lapsed or degenerate state; he is as perfect a being as ever his Creator intended him to be; nor, consequently, did he stand in need of any redemption or atonement.* To which it may be replied, that Pope was professedly writing a philosophical work, in which it would have been impossible for him to advert either to the Mosaic account of the fall, or to the peculiar tenets and doctrines of Christianity. Nor is it perhaps certain that he held the doctrine of the atonement in the rigorous sense in which it is inculcated by the Lutheran and Calvinistic writers, as he might be a very good Catholic without such opinion, it being the express doctrine of the Roman religion that a legal obedience or conformity to the church, together with good works, is sufficient for salvation.

In a similar spirit of sectarianism, the younger Racine, in his poem, Sur la Religion, has alluded to Pope in the following lines, “ Sans doute qu'à ces mots des bords de la Tamise,

Quelque abstrait raisonneur, qui ne se plaint de rien,
Dans son flegme Anglitan, repondra, “ Tout est bien.
Le grand Ordonnateur dont le dessein si sage,
De tant d'êtres divers ne forme qu'un ouvrage,

Nous place à notre rang pour orner son tableau,” &c. It would surely be difficult to conceive how this sentiment of Pope, as quoted by the French writer, could have given him offence; but it must be recollected that one chief object of the poem of Racine is to demonstrate the wretched condition of man as occasioned by the fall; and therefore whatever represents the Creator as infinitely wise and benevolent, and as having formed all things for the best, is considered by him as the language of an abstract reasoner, who has no complaints to make;" and he is accused of "flegme Anglican,” or English stupidity, because he does not, in a philosophical work, enter upon subjects which are confessedly beyond the power of philosophy to explain.

The real objection then to this Essay is, that the author has not thought proper to render it subservient to the support of any one particular sect of Christianity in exclusion to the rest. This plan he adopted intentionally, and upon principle. Although brought up in, and professing the Roman catholic faith, there was no doc

* Note on Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 70.

a

trine that he held in greater abhorrence than that which would exclude those who do not profess that faith, from the mercy of God; and it is not therefore likely that he would become the advocate of the bigotted and intolerant of any other sect, who might consider their own dogmas as indispensably necessary to salvation.

Amongst the objections that have been brought against the principles attributed to this work, it has been said or insinuated that it favours the system of Spinosa; as if all things were only a modification of one universal substance; and that it represents the whole course of things, to use the language of Johnson, as necessary concatenation of indissoluble fatality."* Such was the nature of the charge brought against the Essay on Man by M. de Crousaz; and Johnson himself asserts, that “ in many passages a religious eye may discover expressions not very favourable to morals or to liberty.

If by this it be meant that Pope intended to inculcate any doubt of a supreme, self-existent, intelligent first cause, the creator of all things, no charge can be more unjust, as must appear to every unprejudiced reader by the whole tenor of the which God is represented, not as identified with, but as modifying and controlling matter--as He

whose hand the lightning forms,
Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms."

Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 157. And again, most forcibly, when the Poet asserts,

“God, in the nature of each being, founds

Its proper bliss, and sets its proper bounds ;
But as he fram'd the whole, the whole to bless,
On mutual wants built mutual happiness.”

Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 109. These passages can only be understood as referring to a supreme intelligent being, in whose whole creation, to use the still more decisive and conclusive language of the poet, “ The worker from the work distinct was known.”

Essay on Man, Ep. iii. ver. 229. It must also be a matter of surprise to those who have pe

poem; in

* Life of Pope.

« ZurückWeiter »